“Faith Can Fix Anything”
Hebrews 11:1, 6, 32-39
Before we get started on today’s message, I want to read you a “thank you” letter. Our ladies ministry, Joyous Ministries, did a ministry project where they took new or gently-used purses and filled them with things to bless the women at the women’s shelter in Danville. They filled the purses with hygiene products and other items. This letter comes from the organization that runs the shelter. (Read letter.) I just want to thank those ladies who participated in this ministry.
Last week, we began a new series of messages called Mythbusters. We are looking at spiritual urban legends, spiritual myths, that people subscribe to but are actually untrue. These spiritual myths are dangerous. They are based on flawed assumptions and false information. They are presumed to be maxims that are common knowledge but they’re not based on fact. They’re fictitious and deceitful.
Take your Bibles and turn to the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews. We’re going to spend some time in this chapter a little bit later in the message. Last week, we looked at some introductory principles. Today, I want us to look at the spiritual myth that says: Faith can fix anything.
I’ve seen the scenario I’m about to describe enough times that I’m not surprised by it. A wife, husband, or child is lying in a hospital bed. The prognosis is not good but the husband, wife, or parent has not faced reality. Their loved one doesn’t have long for this world but they’re convinced that God is going to do something miraculous.
Don’t get me wrong. God can heal and God has healed people and God still does heal. I believe in the power of faith but faith can’t fix everything. Yet, this family member is totally convinced that their loved one is going to come through this deadly illness or traumatic injury.
Sometimes, these people who were so sure that their faith in what God could do would cause God to make everything all right according to their wishes. Therein lays the problem. God doesn’t do everything according to our wishes.
When God doesn’t meet their expectations, some people are absolutely devastated spiritually. And for quite a long time – sometimes years and years, they are disillusioned with God. Prayer and faith are no longer important to them.
Their spiritual meltdown has absolutely nothing to do with God letting them down. It has nothing to do with Bible promises being empty. The spiritual meltdown is the predictable result of having placed their trust in one of the most widely-believed spiritual urban legends: the myth that if we have enough faith, we can do or fix anything.
Unfortunately, this particular concept of faith (what it is and how it operates) does not come from the Bible. It comes from pop psychology and from bad theology. Those who try to live their life according to this concept of faith have banked on a set of assumptions and beliefs that simply are not true and they have been let down.
What faith is not:
1. Faith is not the power of positive thinking.
2. Faith is not wishful dreaming.
3. Faith is not creative visualization
4. Faith is not denying reality.
5. Faith is not positive confession.
While faith can incorporate some of those elements, individually they do not define faith. There is an incorrect idea that faith is a potent mixture of intellectual and emotional self-control that when properly utilized can literally change outcomes through positive thinking and clear visualization.
This idea of faith is basically the mantra of success gurus who tout such things as their key to achievement. Some survivors of great tragedies have cited it as their source of endurance. Televangelists credit this formula with healing power. Motivational speakers make lucrative livings espousing such concepts.
It is the very reason why, when our team is down 12 runs and has two outs in the ninth inning that we are not supposed to think negatively. Instead, we’re supposed to hang tough and visualize a big inning. Because as long as we really believe we can win, there is a good chance we will.
It works the same way in a medical crisis. The tests have come back showing the cancer has metastasized. But hey, don’t panic. It can be beat. All you have to do is think positive thoughts.
Maybe someone has a son who is five-foot two, a senior in high school with aspirations of playing in the NBA. Whatever you do, don’t discourage him. Who knows? It could happen. After all, nothing is impossible as long as he pursues his dreams with hard work and an unwavering faith.
Sadly, this kind of hopeful thinking has nothing in common with what the Bible calls faith. Faith distorted becomes faith in faith rather than faith in God. Yet, it’s what many of us have been taught to believe God wants from us when we’re confronted with insurmountable odds.
What we’ve been told and what we’ve believed is that for those who can muster it up, an all-doubts-removed, count-it-as-done faith has the power to fix anything. People have been duped into believing that faith is God’s great cure-all; that faith is a magic potion.
In some Christian circles, this kind of faith is said to have the power to actually manipulate the hand of God. I’ve heard some preachers make outrageous claims concerning this concept of faith. One particular claim is that God has to answer prayers of unwavering faith – no matter what we ask for. God has no choice as long as we have no doubt. It seems the way they teach it, it’s a law of the universe. And apparently, this concept of faith even trumps God’s sovereignty over all things. I don’t want or need a god I can manipulate.
Here is a basic summary of this group’s teaching concerning faith. 1. God creates by using His faith through the power of spoken words. 2. Human beings are “little gods” capable of creating in the same fashion as God did. 3. Human beings, through faith-filled words, can create or cause to come to pass that which is spoken. 4. Then, by one’s spoken words health, healing, and prosperity are created.
The teaching is that if you just have enough faith you can fix your whole life. No more sickness, financial problems or family strife. Have faith, say the right words, and your whole life will all work out the way you want it to.
Faith is a concept rooted deeply in the Bible; however, most of our ideas about faith are not. One major problem stems from the way the original language of the New Testament has been translated into English.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that the translators are unskilled at what they do. They are not deceptive in their work of translating. It’s just that translating anything from one language to another is often a difficult task. There are plenty of auxiliary or supplementary meanings and uses to words that are found in one language but not another. We’re going to make a quick comparison of how we use the words faith, belief, and trust in modern-day English with how they were originally used in the Greek language of the New Testament.
First, let’s look at how we use the word “faith.” For most of us the word faith conjures up an image of confidence. To us, it is the opposite of fear and doubt and it’s defined by how we feel as much as by anything else. That’s the reason why most teaching on faith tends to focus on eradicating all fear, doubt, and negative thoughts. It’s also the reason that having faith has come to mean, “Think positive thoughts.”
Now let’s look at how we use the word “belief.” The word belief generally invokes the image of intellectual agreement. We say that we believe in something as long as we think it is probably true. Since our beliefs are thought to exist primarily between our ears, we’re not particularly puzzled when people claim to believe in something – be it UFO’s, Bigfoot, Darwinian evolution, creationism, or even Jesus – but they live as if they don’t. For most of us, beliefs are intellectual and acting on those beliefs is optional.
You can see this definition of belief in the way many church folks approach the task of evangelism. They tell the Jesus story and then ask the person they’re speaking to if they believe it. Those who say, “Yes,” are immediately assured that they’re headed for heaven. After all, according to this definition, they are “believers.” Biblical faith in Jesus is much more multifaceted than that.
And last but not least, let’s talk about how we use the word “trust.” When we use the word trust, it almost always carries an assumption that there will be some sort of corresponding action. If we trust someone, it’s supposed to show up in how we respond to that person. An example would be the parent of a teenage girl who says, “I trust you,” but they won’t let her out of the house. We’d probably see the nonsense in that parent’s statement of trust and I guarantee the teenage daughter would as well.
Each of those three words – faith, belief, and trust – carries a distinctly different meaning in the English language. But every time we find one of these three words in our English New Testament, each one of them is a translation of some form of the exact same Greek root word.
What that tells us is that the Bible doesn’t make the sharp distinctions we make between faith, belief, and trust. Biblically, these words not only overlap, they are practically synonymous. Early Christians would have great difficulty in understanding our usage of these words.
So what does God’s Word teach us about faith? Heb. 11:1 – Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. That’s the way the NIV translates this passage.
However, I like the KJV here the best. I think it expresses most clearly what the original writer intended. Heb. 11:1 – Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Faith has substance. The word “substance” in the original language means “to stand under.” It was a term meaning a place where the ground is solid enough to be a foundation. It is solid ground. You can be assured that it is trustworthy. It’s not a subjective feeling or a question of how sincere we are in what we believe.
Faith has evidence. The word “evidence” in the original language was a legal term referencing what could be “evidence” or “proof” in a court of law. It was something that had to meet judicial standards and could be used to solidify claims made in court.
The writer of Hebrews points out that the evidence is found in what is not seen. When you cross a bridge over a large body of water, you can only see the supports of the bridge to the top of the water. The bridge is not supported by the top of the water. It’s supported by what you can’t see – the pylons driven into the ground underneath the water.
Faith is basically relying that God has a plan. His plan may not be our plan but we trust that his plan is for the best.
In the book of Daniel, we read about three young Jewish men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Jewish people had been taken into captivity to Babylon but there were quite a few bright and able men who became advisors to the Babylonian king.
The king made a statue of himself made of pure gold that was 60 feet tall. The command was given that when the instruments were played, everyone had to bow down in worship to his statue. The three young Jewish men refused. They would only worship God.
Some of the king’s Babylonian advisors reported their failure to worship the statue to the king. The law was that anyone not complying with this law would be thrown into a furnace that burned at very high temperatures.
When the three Jewish men were confronted and reminded about the punishment for their refusal to follow this command, they gave the king an answer that demonstrated their faith. Dan. 3:16-18 – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Rick Warren: “Faith is facing the facts without being disheartened by them because you know God is greater than the problem.” Basically, biblical faith says, “Things may not turn out the way I wish they would but I trust God any way it turns out.”
Faith, at least biblical faith, can have complex elements. One of those complex elements is that even a small amount of faith is powerful. Jesus talked about “mustard seed” faith. Take whatever you’re writing with right now or if you’re not writing, please pick up something to write with. Take the point of your writing instrument and make a small dot on the church bulletin. If you don’t have one, make a small dot on some piece of paper. Has everybody finished your dot? Look at it closely for just a moment. That’s the size of the seed to which Jesus refers.
God doesn’t care if we have mastered the art of positive thinking. He’s not impressed by the mental gymnastics of visualization. He doesn’t even insist that we eradicate all doubts and fears. In fact, more than once, God has answered the prayers of people whose faith was so weak that when God said, “Yes,” they had a difficult time believing it.
Here’s an example. In Acts 12, Herod launches a full-out assault against the church. He has the apostle James arrested and beheaded. When he saw how much the Jewish leaders liked what he did, Herod got bolder and arrested Peter. Peter is in prison awaiting trial before Herod. Listen to what the church in Jerusalem was doing during this time. Acts 12:5 – So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
What do you think they were praying for? That Peter would be released, right? What happens is that God sends an angel to release Peter from prison. The angel just walks him outside and sends him on his way. Peter goes to the house where the believers are all gathered in prayer. Pay attention to what happens.
Acts 12:12-16 – When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” [I wonder if Peter stood there shaking his head.]
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James [Not James the apostle. He’s already dead. This is James, Jesus’ half-brother] and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
When the first response to an answered prayer is shock and amazement, the people who offered those prayers certainly do not fit the popular definition of having faith. Yet God answered anyway because their prayers fit His definition of faith. Their simple act of praying was an act of faith. They trusted God enough to pray, even though they weren’t completely convinced it was going to work.
Let’s go back to Hebrews 11. It tells us in vs. 6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
So, what kind of faith pleases God? The kind of faith the Bible advocates and God wants from us has far more to do with our actions than our feelings. In fact, biblical faith is so closely tied to acts of obedience that the Bible actually scoffs at the very idea of someone claiming to have faith without acting upon it. James 2:26 – As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Hebrews 11 is called “the faith chapter” of the Bible. Does it bear out what we’ve been saying about the tie between faith and obedience? It most certainly does. It lists what some have called “the hall of faith”. The faith of the people listed led them to obedient action.
The writer of Hebrews starts with Abel, then moves on to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and lays out a series of events that describe these people’s steps of faith and the victories that followed. Then, almost as if he’s running out of steam (or his audience is running out of attention), the writer adds some more examples. This time, he only gives a name or a reference to the victory their faith accomplished.
Heb. 11:32-35a – And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
At first glance, this passage seems to support the popular notion that faith rightly applied can conquer anything. But the writer doesn’t stop there. He goes on. He suddenly switches gears and changes directions. Now he talks about people whose faith led them to different results.
Heb. 11:35b-38 – There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Then he writes these words in Heb. 11:39a – These were all commended for their faith. In other words, this last group was not the bench warmers. They weren’t the last string. They were not the rejects of faith. They were not the ones who couldn’t get it right. These were men and women whose faith was applauded by God. Yet, their faith didn’t fix anything. In some cases, it made it worse.
I guarantee you that no one ever taught me this side of faith in Sunday school. Imagine what would happen if they did. “Okay, children, today we’re going to learn how trusting and obeying God might get you torn in two, thrown into jail, hated by your friends, and force you to drive an old beater the rest of your life.” That would certainly thin the herd.
But this is essentially what the Bible says that faith (at least the kind of faith that God commends) might do. It may lead us to victory. It may lead us to prison. Whatever the result, it’s God’s call; not ours.
So, after an overview study of faith, we should all be pondering something very important. If faith is really all about trusting God enough to do what he says, and yet faith won’t fix everything, and even sometimes will seem to make matters worse, why bother?
One reason we should bother with living by faith is because it’s what God wants from us. Remember Heb. 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. If God is really God – not just some impersonal mystical force or favorite uncle in the sky – then knowing what he wants and doing what he wants is very important.
But the overarching reason to live by faith is because even though it can’t fix all the problems we face, it does fix our biggest problem – Sin. What do we say and what do we do when we stand before a holy and perfect God who knows every one of our secrets and all of our sins? Be honest now – what keeps us from eternal punishment?
Here is where the real “fix-it” power of biblical faith kicks in. Jesus promised that everyone who would believe in him (remember that involves trusting him enough to actually follow him and do what he says) will receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.
When biblical faith is rightly understood and applied, it doesn’t matter how many doubts we have. It doesn’t even matter if we’re convinced that all is lost. What does matter is whether we have enough faith (even the size of a mustard seed) to follow God’s instructions. Those who do, get where they’re supposed to go. Those who don’t end up lost somewhere far from home.
Faith is not a skill that we master. It doesn’t protect us from every hardship and trial of life. It’s not a magic potion that removes every mess. Faith is a map that gives us spiritual guidance to reach the right destination. Faith has the capacity to take us exactly where God wants us to go. The road is seldom easy but it is worth it in the end. It might take some serious blood, sweat, and tears along the way, but it will always lead us home.
When you are going through a tragedy in your life, it doesn’t matter how many doubts you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a hard time believing that the situation will turn out great. What really matters is whether or not you have enough faith to simply follow God.
(This series freely adapted from Larry Osborne’s book:
Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe)